This is the single best piece of writing advice I ever received, and one that was worth turning into a brief blog post.
Never stop learning how to write.
Reading is an absolutely wonderful way to further your voice and sense of pacing and style, but the reality is that unless you're an expert with a dozen novels under your belt, you have things to learn. I made the decision last week to hire an editor to help me with a new genre of book I'm working on...a large undertaking in every sense of the word. It's a sizable financial commitment, a serious dedication of time because there are deadlines which I must meet, and as an educator and mother and author, sometimes I feel like I've learned everything there is to learn. Except I haven't, and that's one of the reasons I'm a writer, because I want to continue learning. In the spirit of this, I present a list of learning opportunities that you can take advantage of and SHOULD make time for. It's not just enough to write. Keep learning!
MOOC - Massive online open courses are free and offer far more than just writing tips and tricks. Particularly if you're planning a historical novel or your work centers around a specialized protagonist, take advantage of the free opportunities to learn and make your writing more authentic.
Online Writing Courses - Gotham is my personal favorite with a boutique of different topics, but there are dozens of online course hubs. If a full course isn't your cup of tea, many organizations are offering writing boot camps that provide a week of intensive study for very reasonable prices. (Mothers Always Write, the journal I edit for, just launched our maiden voyage with this. Ours is full, but many are out there. Decide first on your price range and how much time you plan to devote, and Google away from there.)
Editorial Help - Consider hiring an editor if you have arrived at the end of a project OR stalled on something you're working on. Again, plan what you're willing to spend and then find personal recommendations. Websites present a formidable summary, but until you talk to actual clients, you won't get a true sense of what the editors can do. I received my recommendation from a published author at a SCBWI conference, and I was sold.
Textbooks - If a traditional writing class isn't in the cards and online doesn't appeal, consider browsing syllabi of graduate courses that appeal. Often the texts are listed and just reading through one can be a refresher or walk you through a new genre. One of my all-time favorites, The Making of a Story, is an education cover to cover.
On-Site College Courses - Auditing courses can be a free and educational experience without the commitment of a full graduate program. Reach out to local schools and see what their policies are, or touch base specifically with the writing staff.
Writing Conferences - Most conferences, in addition to providing great access to professionals in the industry, also run workshops on a number of specified topics. Start with a writing group that speaks to your project or genre, such as SCBWI, or , or go to a general writers resource like Poet and Writers Magazine conference search engine.
Critique Groups - I saved this one for last because in my opinion, a good critique group is tough to find. You need to find authors that will challenge you and are there to better their writing. Be savvy when shopping for one and don't settle for a group unless you feel that you are gaining as much from reading the works of the other members as the notes that you receive on your own manuscript. Otherwise often a beta reader can provide the same without as much of a time commitment.
The long and the short is that there are opportunities for every price and time range, as long as you're willing to jump in and find them.
Writing has always been an escape, a passion, and a friend. And I love the fact that in my free time and through my career I can help others discover their voice, too.